Given the circumstances late in Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, you might not remember that rookie running back Jaylen Samuels only played two snaps following the ankle injury suffered by James Conner. Because the Pittsburgh Steelers only got to run two plays.
Both of them were passes that went to Samuels, first for five yards and then for a 10-yard touchdown, his second receiving touchdown in the past several weeks. But the point is, he didn’t play two snaps. He played 17 snaps, and 15 of them came before Conner went down. That included work in the two-minute offense at the end of the first half, so this game was already an indication of their increased confidence in him.
But that he was able to come in after Conner’s injury and contribute in the manner that he did was big not just for him but for his teammates as well. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger talked about the importance of that moment and about the rookie’s progress overall during his radio show yesterday.
“I thought he was great. I was proud of the way that he stepped in, kind of at a moment’s notice, in a crucial situation”, he said of the late-game injury substitution. “We were driving down trying to tie the game, and he steps in and has to make a play for us, and he did it”.
While Samuels only has 31 yards on 12 carries, he also has 54 yards on seven receptions, and two of those receptions have gone for touchdowns on plays that showed off his ‘nose for the goal line’ that he was said to have had in his college career, scoring 47 touchdowns while at North Carolina State despite the fact that he was never really a ‘starter’.
“I think that’s the confidence that we have in him and that he’s got in himself”, Roethlisberger added regarding Samuels. “We go to him on plays. It’s not like he’s the last read. He was the second option on the touchdown. He kind of bobbled it a little bit but he made the play and then just showed the speed and wherewithal to get to the edge and score a touchdown. I thought it was awesome”.
It’s worth reminding that Samuels was primarily a slot receiver in college, at least in effect. He caught 201 passes over four seasons, averaging 65 catches over his final three years, accumulating 1851 receiving yards and 19 receiving touchdowns. He also scored 28 on the ground on 182 rushing attempts for 1107 yards.
Roethlisberger went up to Samuels after both of his touchdowns this year to compliment him and make sure he knows that his teammates appreciate what he’s doing. With Conner already ruled out for their next game, they will need more from him than ever.